Monday, February 13, 2006

Fort Canning - Simon Chu

Chun See’s blog on the Armenian Street area brings back many memories for me of the Fort Canning vicinity.

The primary school I went to (Anglo-Chinese Primary) was located at that spot where it is now the National Archives. The building structure is still erect and operating and the National Archives has done a great job in retrofitting it to suit their purpose.

While there are many vivid memories about that school, I like to bring ourselves back to the 1st half of the 60s to the cemetery that was (still is I hope) just a 200 metres uphill from the school location. I hope Chun See will be able to take a snap-shot of the cemetery gate. I told myself that if I ever go back to Singapore again I will surely make a trip to that cemetery (if it is still around) to see how ‘spacious’ it is. The last time I went there was with my late father some 15 years ago! I remember reading on one inscription on a grave that goes like….’ A good soldier who lost his life at sea….unknown ’ circa. 1800s.

It was indeed very spacious to me when I was a child in the 1st half of the 60s attending the school nearby. That was the formative time of my life, to say the least. We used to hold our Saturday junior scout meetings in that cemetery. We were known as wolf-cubs then (and I guess it was heavy British influence back in those days) Our cub leader (called Cub Mistress) Mrs Hannah Chia and with other teachers (I remember Mr Bao, Miss Chen and Miss Ng) preferred the cemetery for the obvious of its spaciousness so that we could conduct our activities.

One of the many grave plaques mounted along the wall of the Fort Caning area.

There are many grave plaques mounted along this wall. Most are faded and not legible.

Some of the activities I recall included the ritual of gathering in big circle to pay salute to the cub mistress and followed by the personal hygiene inspection, such as checking on our finger nails and uniform tardiness. We cubs had to say our vow, ‘Akela we’ll do our best!’ Then we all had to do a hoop like what a real wolf cub would do. We learnt the basic wood craft like tying various types of knots with the rope. The 1st knot I learnt was the reef-knot and the bow-line?

I used to arrive early at 9.00 on Saturday mornings before everyone else. I was curious enough to wonder who were buried beside these tomb-stones that dotted around the cemetery and strange as they seemed, these are large grave stones and there was one in particular that was located right in the middle of the field. It measured something like 3 ft x 6 ft and 3 ft high. I have never noticed the inscription on it….we simply used it as our convenient table to land our personal bags. I sometimes wondered who was buried right beneath the slabs. We were asked to come in dressed in our cub uniform, I remember.

That's the approximate spot where we placed our belongings

I think there were about 20 of us in those days and in fact there is a picture of us taken right at the staircase of the school building where the car park was. All in all, we had great time as wolf-cubs.
Back in 1963 the cub mistress Mrs Chia’s husband was introduced to us and he took us on to higher ground in the scouting adventure!

He started a sea scout troop and we were all invited to join in and indeed we did. We were the first batch of his intake (in fact the only intake he took) and we even had our 1st meeting in his home at Wilkie Terrace. I was only primary 5 then. I experienced my 1st outdoor camping on Pulau Tekong. That experience till today still rings well in my memory! We had to take a bump-boat at the Changi Point to get across to Pulau Tekong. I remember doing it the same way when years later I was enlisted into the national service. Although I had my recruit training (boot camp) at Jalan Bahar under the School of Artillery, I was posted to Pulau Tekong to train recruits when after commissioning.

We recited the Lord’s prayer in our first night during our first camping experience.
A storm started in the middle of the night and we were feeling pretty unsettled as I recalled. For obvious reason that prayer meant so real to my heart!

Sarabat Store

There were times when after the cub meeting which usually ended at around 11ish we would adjourn to the cub mistress’ home at Wilkie Terrace which is by all standards not far from Fort Canning. We would take the wooded path (cut out by excessive walking by many users ) that led us from the cemetery through the car park of the National Library. From the National Library we would cross the Stamford Road overlooking a large monsoon canal, then crossed the Waterloo Street where Chun See spoke about the scenic spot of row of Indian rojak stalls.

Image hosting by Photobucket
I drew this sketch from memory

That is not what I like to talk about. I want to bring us to a particular and in fact the only sarabat stall that was set up at the fringe of the Fort Canning along the wooded path under a huge angsana tree. That was where I tasted my first roti-prata with curry sauce in my life and with a glass of teh-tarik all under 20 cents! That was 1963!

Bible House Viewed from Canning Rise

The Indian guy who served us I remember wore a bonny-tail. I could not grade his roti-prata to be the best but to me it was certainly affordable! My mother only gave me 40 cents for the Saturday outing. 10 cents each way for my transportation fare by bus from Thomson Road all the way to Hill Street. It was the good old STC Number 1 bus. Looking back it was a memorable time when we all would crowd round his stall to enjoy a morning tea break under the cool shading of those trees. I have the feeling that those trees were probably the primary jungle the Singapore had since its founding in 1819 by Stamford Raffles. By the way the back of the National Library was just across the Fort Canning Road to the cemetery!

I could not afford to treat myself to the Waterloo Street Indian rojak though they all looked very tempting to me each time I walked past them. As said 20 cents was all I could afford back then. But of course when we went to the Cub Mistress’ home I would only need to spend 5 cents for my bus fare home by riding the Tay Koh Yat bus at the then Rex Cinema along Bukit Timah Road (Opposite to the TekKa market ) [竹脚巴刹 ] Can’t remember what number it was.

Talking of the Rex Cinema, some of us will remember the chendol stall behind the Cinema building lined with food stalls and this chendol was located right at the very first beside the Bukit Timah Road. I could treat myself with an icy cold glass of chendol, of course. What stays in my memorythough, is not the tasty chendol, but the person who dished out the chendol. He was a short, stocky fellow, which gave me the impression that he was a weight lifter. I used to marvel how he managed to accumulate all those muscles.


Anonymous said...

Chu See
Sure glad you took the bother of taking those snap shots today and painfully posted them on the blog!
Yes, that is the cemetery we used to hold our cub meetings back in 1963! The circled spot is the approximate spot where the tomb was located whose surface top we sued to put our belongings on!

Lam Chun See said...

Your welcome Simon.

Actually, it was good exercise for me. I managed to clock 4,800 steps on my pedometer. Also managed to add a foto of SMU to my previous blog. Also good education for me as I have not been to that place for ages. I think the last time I went to Fort Canning was to take part in the Spore Electronics Ind Recreation Assn squash tournament in the early eighties when I was a member of the Philips team.

Hoffnungsfunke the billygoat said...

Hi, I am only 22, but I went to Anglo Chinese Primary too, and the photo u took of the green lawn where you used have your wolf cub activities was where I played soccer with my class at the end of Primary 4. Primary 5, we moved to the new building, now called ACS (Barker). A new place, better facillities, but none of the ambience of the old ACPS that I had grown to love, and with Fort Canning Hill as our playground just behind it

Victor said...

My eldest brother, who is 64 this year, also attended ACS Primary School about a decade before Chun Sing did. I remember flipping through his school's black-and-white magazine many years ago. They wore shorts which were normally way too big for them, very much like the shorts which policemen wore in those days.

Maybe it's just me but I find some of the details a little morbid, talking about coffins, street of the sick and dying, funeral parlours and now cemetery. Certainly not memories that I would reminisce with a smile. But then again, nobody could deny that these were the cold hard facts of life in those yesteryears.

Anonymous said...

Remembering the past can bring back gushs of pleasant or unpleasant feelings which our memory could not wipe them out. These are realities of life.

Anonymous said...

Sorry for causing you to feel somewhat morbid about the whole episode of cemetery..etc. I can understand why you feel that way...just human side of us who do not wish to deal with the matter of death....(like you said these were the cold hard facts of life in those yesteryears.) I hope I have perceived it correctly??!!??

My personal outlook is somebit different....It took me a long time to recognise that death is an inevitable. This causes me to look for things that would last or stay eternal. Something that gives me comfort when I am ushered to the next stage ...and I have found it! To go back to those items that I wrote I tend to explore how these people of yesteryears dealt with their lives while on the planet and through it all, I could learn from their testimonies whether edifying or not.....still I learn...

Anonymous said...

People use to offer flowers in places of worship. Flowers may look good for a day or two and would soon fade away. It reminds us that life on earth is fleeting. Therefore, we soon add value to our lives while we are still around.